Book Review: A Doubter’s Guide To The Ten Commandments

A Doubter’s Guide To The Ten Commandments:  How, For Better Or Worse, Our Ideas About The Good Life Come From Moses And Jesus, by John Dickson

[Note:  This book was received free of charge from BookLook/Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.]

I’m not sure what the purpose of having a book series called the Doubter’s Guides is, when written by an Australian Christian.  This is an apologetics guide, not written to someone who has many doubts at all.  The fact that the series as a whole seems to be a bit of a misnomer aside, this is the sort of book that one judges based on its contents, and those contents are solid.  That is not to say that the book is perfect and can be taken entirely on face value—for one, the author seems to desire to separate himself from conservatism, as if that was a bad thing, and perhaps more substantially, the author shows himself pretty clueless about the perspective of Jesus Christ and the early Church of God on the Sabbath, which is colored by the fact that he does not honor the Sabbath day.  We do not understand what we do not respect, after all, and if there is any commandment that even the most serious-minded of self-professed Christians do not remotely understand, it is the Sabbath.  This book is merely one of many [1] that has that problem or that deals with that problem within Christianity and larger culture.

The author begins the fairly obvious structure of this book in talking about the ten commandments, pointing out how the Ten Commandments are superior to their supposed ancient competitors in Hammurabi and Delphi and replacements like that by Dawkins, and answering the question why one would want to be good, while also providing three keys to the ten commandments:  the contention that Jesus “transposed” Moses in a different key, a mistaken division of the Ten Commandments into categories of 4 and 6 rather than 5 and 5 regarding love to God and love for brethren [2], and the fact that God’s laws are a charter of freedom.  This third key is sufficiently strong that the author’s flawed understandings of the other two does not sink the value of the book as a whole.  Obedience as freedom is really what this book is about, and that is a very good thing.  The rest of the chapters of the book give the contemporary relevance of the ten commandments and discuss each commandment’s more salient features.  To give a few examples of how this result is a good thing is the way that the author connects greed and idolatry, the importance of supporting adults, complete with some soul-searching about the author’s problems in respecting and honoring his single mother, and the total impossibility of fully obeying God through an examination of the prohibition on coveting.  The result is a book that is quick to read and under 200 pages, but yet providing something worthwhile for readers despite its size.

Despite the book’s imperfections, there are few reasons why this book is a worthwhile one about the Ten Commandments.  For one, the author pours himself into the work.  It is obvious when reading this book that the author is not trying to paint himself as a perfect person looking down on others—there is free admission of the problem of Christian hypocrisy and the ironies of secularists performing a useful and necessary Christian task, even unknowingly, and the author’s own life struggles.  Equally obvious, though, is that the author has hit upon a point that deserves to be read and reflected on by people regardless of their religious worldview, and that is the inescapable nature of Judeo-Christian ethics within Western society, and that even those who do not see a need for God or His laws cannot conceive of a just society that does not live according to His ways.  The result is a triumphant examination of practical ethics that is simultaneously a thoughtful work of apologetics.  Whether you doubt God, reject Him, or strive however imperfectly and haltingly to obey Him, this is a worthwhile book that showcases the flawed but sincere approach of its author.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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12 Responses to Book Review: A Doubter’s Guide To The Ten Commandments

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